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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

US budget outline calls for huge Pentagon spending increase

The $686bn plan is framed by new national defence strategy

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has warned of a new ‘Great Power’ competition with Russia and China and wants to increase the size of the military
Pentagon chief Jim Mattis has warned of a new ‘Great Power’ competition with Russia and China and wants to increase the size of the military

The Pentagon on Monday unveiled a mammoth budget proposal for fiscal 2019 that would involve a more than 10 per cent increase in spending and add thousands more troops across the US military services.

The $686 billion (Dh2.5 trillion) spending plan – up from $612bn in 2018 – is framed in the context of the Pentagon’s latest national defence strategy, and contrasts with the State Department’s budget, which calls for steep cuts in spending on aid and diplomacy.

Secretary of Defence Jim Mattis has warned of a new "Great Power" competition with Russia and China and wants to increase the size of the military, introduce more warships and weapons, and improve readiness – all the while operating across Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

“It is increasingly apparent that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian values and, in the process, replace the free and open order that has enabled global security and prosperity since World War Two,” Pentagon comptroller David Norquist told reporters.

“If unaddressed, the eroding US military advantage versus China and Russia could undermine our ability to deter aggression and coercion in key strategic regions.”

Although the US spends more money on defence than the next eight militaries combined, Mr Norquist said the 2019 budget request merely would put Pentagon spending back on track to where it would have been had the administration of Barack Obama not implemented spending caps.

The budget from President Donald Trump’s government calls for an additional 25,900 troops, as well as major investments in aircraft, ships, ground systems and missile defences.

The State Department, meanwhile, published its budget proposal for 2019 calling for deep cuts, although Congress has dismissed the idea.

In the case of the State Department and USAID, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requested $37.8bn, up slightly from the $37.6bn request for 2018.

To this was added $1.5bn, in a separate addendum to reflect higher caps allowed under a recent congressional budget deal, bringing the total request to $39.3bn.

In 2017, the last year of the previous US administration, the department spent $55.6bn, so if Congress – which is working on a joint budget for 2018 and 2019 – had approved the 2018 request, it would have meant a more than 30 per cent cut.

Instead, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle argued that such a draconian reduction would be dangerous, with US diplomats working on a number of international crises.

Mr Tillerson has commissioned a "re-design" of the State Department, despite resistance from career staff, and he is struggling to fill key senior posts.

When last year’s authorisation request was filed, Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said even studying it would be a “waste of time”.

Mr Corker’s colleague Senator Lindsey Graham said the 2018 plan was “dead on arrival,” adding: “This budget destroys soft power. It puts our diplomats at risk and it’s going nowhere.”

Although the top line figure remains around the same as the earlier suggestion, Mr Tillerson’s latest plan does move some funding around to take into account new US priorities.

The budget line for “embassy security, construction and maintenance,” for example, increases from $1.42bn in the 2018 plan to $1.66bn in the 2019 draft.

This comes as the White House pushes to accelerate implementation of its controversial decision to re-locate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

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